Blueberry Muffins

This evening we decided to keep the kids up and watch the dance-off episode of "America's Best Dance Crew". Now, we normally don't let the kids watch ABDC because they're normally asleep, but it was the first almost-close-to-a-whole day with Sean, so we extended their day. Anyhoo...we made a run to the commissary earlier (the military grocery store) and I had bought to giant cartons of plain yogurt. One of the reasons being for this blueberry muffin recipe I read on The Pioneer Woman Cooks blog...another favorite blog. I'm a sucker for blogs with great photos (well, and that are fun to read). Anyhoo, I had a bunch o' blueberries in the fridge that we're about to stand on their last leg and needed to do something with them. That's when I saw this recipe and couldn't wait to try it. Ooh, I also made Peruvian Chicken but with no photos and the chicken needing a longer marinating time, I'll post that at a later date.

Here's the recipe:

The Awesome-est Blueberry Muffins
3 cups minus 2 tablespoons flour (I actually substituted in a cup of almond meal...hence the browner color of my muffins)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
Heavy pinch of salt
Dash of Nutmeg (I did not do a dash, I did a bit more to balance out the cinnamon I added) Cinnamon (a very healthy dose of it...we're talking a least 1.5 teaspoons)
1 cup sugar (I did substitute a bit of Splenda in it)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 generous cup plain, unflavored yogurt (throw in extra if you want)
2 cups fresh blueberries
Vanilla Extract (as usual, I added waaaay more)
Softened Butter, for muffin tins (I used muffin liners)
Turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 385 degrees.

In a large bowl sift flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl whisk together sugar, oil, cap-ful of vanilla (I used about 1-1.5 teaspoons since a "cap-ful of vanilla" is NOT in my vocabulary...I can't even process that phrase), egg, and yogurt. Add the dry ingredients and stir to a count of 10. Add blueberries, reserving 1/2 cup, to mixture and stir 3 times.

Add mixture to well-buttered muffin pans. Sprinkle remaining berries on top and press down lightly. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over top. (Brown sugar can be used instead.) Bake 20 to 25 minutes and allow to cool completely.

I would DEFINITELY not leave out the turbinado!! It balanced out nicely with the texture and the sweetness balanced the tart blueberries. I would've substituted the oil with applesauce but I used my Omega-3 blend veg oil and figured that healthy fat needed to be in it. So, have fun and enjoy!!!


Harrira/Harira...Yumminess in a Bowl

So our family loves ourselves some soup/stew. Love, love, LOVE it!! Although FL (East Coast) summers are not ideal for eating soup (I say "eating" since I put so much dang stuff in it that it's definitely a stand-alone meal). Anyhoo, the Hubby came home from being out to sea for the summer and I definitely need to start feeding that belly with some good, HEALTHY food. With him home, that means cooking for an entire neighborhood is back in effect!

So, the first time I had harrira/harira was at the Lebanese Taverna in Rockville, MD. It was this past winter holiday season when the Hubby was out to sea (effectively missing Turkey Day, Xmas, New Year's, our anniversary, & my birthday for the 2nd year in a row) so the kids and I spent the holidays with The Fam in DC. Anyhoo...back to The Soup. Oh my yumminess was I in love...except that it was mildly spicy due to all the SALT it had. Yeah, that was the only drawback. But, the flavors were out of sight and just like nothing I had had before. So, once settled back in FL and thinking about our time in DC, I remembered The Soup.

I came across many different recipes, many of them calling for lamb. We're not big lamb people and the only time I can stomach lamb is in a gyro. The gaminess is what gets me. Anyhoo, I've gotten a pretty good knack at perusing recipes and weeding out what won't be good. I finally narrowed it down to about 5 recipes and then to 3 and finally down to Emeril Lagasse's recipe. Emeril says it's Moroccan. I had it at the Lebanese Taverna. I've seen it under other ethnicities but really was just too excited to make it to narrow down which ethnicity can claim it. Till then, this Middle Eastern soup is just SO good. BTW...one thing I did find out that was the same across the board is that harrira/harira is a soup used to break fast during Ramadan.

It's definitely got a bunch of different spices...and normally ones I'm not really fond of in savory foods (ie. cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). But, OH MY MY MY MY...this is so good. Anyway...if you're looking for a new twist on a veggie soup, try this one out!!!

I'm not one to follow recipes when cooking (just baking and I still deviate at times with those...esp. when it comes to adding cinnamon and/or vanilla). So, I've added my additions in red...but mainly I just eyeball everything. So, all the measurements for the spices below, I just kept pouring it out until I was satisfied with the amount. ;o) Keep in mind, I like spices, cilantro, and LOTS o' veggies/fiber in my dishes. Plus, the kids love this soup (toddlers with very global palates), so I definitely take this opportunity to sneak in lots of veggies!! Also, my end result was a filled-to-the-brim 8QT All-Clad stockpot...;o) I don't exaggerate when I say I cook for the neighborhood.

adapted from Emeril's Harira Recipe

1/4 pound dried chickpeas (I use 2 cans of chickpeas...kinda too busy to be soakin' 'em bad boys)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced onions (I used a large & medium size onion)
1/2 cup diced celery (I probably used about 6+ huge stalks)
Carrots, diced (I actually used about 8+ carrots...I'm telling you, VEGGIE-intensive over here)
Garlic, minced (I used about 5-6+ cloves...garlic is my addiction)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
1 1/2 quarts rich chicken stock (I used more since I had a lot more of everything added...and the rice will soak up a lot of the liquid)
1/4 pound dried green lentils (I used ~1/2 lb. or more)
1/2 cup long-grain rice (I used brown rice about 2-3x as much)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (again, I used A LOOOOOOOOOOT of cilantro)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (I probably used about a 3/4-1 cup of this)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Cilantro sprigs, for garnishing

Pick over the chickpeas, cover with cold water, and soak overnight at room temperature. Drain chickpeas and rinse well with cold running water. Drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken in batches, and cook until well browned, about 4 minutes per batch. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. Add the onions and celery and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the ginger, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes and their juices, stirring well. Stir in the chicken stock, lentils, and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook at a gentle simmer for 1 hour.

Add the rice and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and return the soup to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, add the cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice and cook, uncovered for 5 minutes.

Ladle into warmed soup bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs.


Cupcakes & Dumplings

Mom was down for less than two weeks and just in time to save my sanity! It was a great visit and we're missing her right now! Her visit also happened to coincide with her father's 98th birthday! So, we packed up and drove down to Miami to celebrate my grandfather's Almost Centennial birthday! Knowing I had to make my grandparents' favorite pasta (Linguine w/Clam Sauce...well, favorite pasta that I make them) and some kind of celebratory dessert for his birthday, I prepped, planned, & packed for our trip.

I decided to make lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream...lemon is probably his favorite flavor (dessert, at least). So, I used two recipes from my favorite baking blog, The Repressed Pastry Chef, for cake (love this recipe since it's light, fluffy, and not cloyingly sweet) and buttercream. Needless to say, it was a hit and I had all three great-grandchildren do the decorating...ummmm, with the sprinkles that is! I wasn't about to trust two 4YOs (both almost 5) & a 3YO with frosting (I can say this since 2 out of the 3 great-grans belong to me). I wanted to ensure that we HAD frosting for the cupcakes. ;o)

Aura, the eldest great-grandchild by 5 days!

Kaia, the middle great-grandchild

Jaron, the baby & only great-grandson...for now

We also made one of Kaia's all-time favorite meals...pan-fried dumplings.

This is the pork & shrimp (and roughly half or more veggie) version. One day, I'll have to post the recipe. I make a chicken version too. Sean & Kaia like to have dumpling eating contest. Even though Sean obviously outweighs Kai-Bear, I think ounce for ounce, Kaia is the CLEAR winner. Kaia can eat 9-10 of these bad boys...which is sometimes more than me!


Healthy to Not-So-Healthy

This weekend started w/healthy foods to progressively "that-can't-even-pass-as-good-for-you" food. I started off the weekend making an Oatmeal Brulee. I found the recipe on the blog Kath eats Real Food. I really like her blog (despite her being a Duke fan...GO TERPS) since she cooks really healthy. She's actually studying to be a dietitian. Everyone knows I try to cook healthy...relatively low-fat, full of good fats, make healthy substitutions, high in fiber, high in vegs, and cooking to ensure most of the nutrients remain in place. So, yeah, I like her blog for inspiration. I made the oatmeal brulee and loved it. Since I usually don't follow recipes except when I have to bake something (and I still usually don't follow the recipe to a T), I jazzed mine up with more bananas, more cinnamon, ground flax, & raisins.

I also still have my oil (extra virgin olive oil & some Omega-3 blend) for deep-frying out. So, I wanted to make homemade french fries. Now, fries are a bit of an addiction for me. I am particular about my fries. They cannot be too dark, must be golden, have to be crisp on the outside and completely cooked on the inside, and has to be burn-my-mouth hot!!! I love steak fries, wedges, waffle fries, shoestrings...etc. As long as it's not hard, completely mushy, completely crispy...I don't care what shape they are. Again, they also cannot be brown....golden, people...is that so hard to understand? And HOT, dammit!!! Enough with that. A while ago, I had seen Paula Deen make some onion fries. Holy cow, that instantly sent me back in time to when our neighbor Delicia started throwing in onions when she made french fries. We went home and replicated it too. Granted, Delicia was about 13 and I was 9 at the time, so we'd throw the onions in the beginning w/our frozen fries and even though the fries came out all yummy & everything...the onions, did not. So, reading through this recipe made my mouth salivate and I finally remembered to buy some red potatoes to try this bad boy out. I'm so glad I did! The kids and I loved it. Kaia loved the onions especially...all nice and sweet & salty. Both Kaia & I love dipping our fries in vinegar. I'm not much of a ketchup person, but I do loves me some ketchup w/lots of Tabasco). Kaia loves ketchup too...a lot of it. We use the organic version since it doesn't have high fructose corn syrup.

So, we've gone from Oatmeal Brulee to French Fries to Cookies n' Cream Cake. Yup. Cookies n' Cream. Now, mind you, I apparently didn't have enough powdered sugar on hand to make a full batch of that fabulous buttercream I blogged about earlier. But I did, however, have enough to make a half batch...only realizing this a little bit later when the neurons started firing between the synapses. My synapses were probably in carb heaven and still snoozing. Anyhoo, I made enouch but when my cake was done, I realized it was enough for a batch of cupcakes but NOT enough for a two-layer cake. Thus, the shots of I have are good enough to not embarrass me too much. ;o) For the cake, I used Ina's recipe again. I think having all of Ina Garten's cookbooks allow me to call her Ina or I-nizza or I.G. or...ok, I really need other adults around. Anyhoo...so, Ina's recipe (using Hershey's Special Dark cocoa), vanilla buttercream, and crushed Newman's Own organic chocolate sandwich cookies. I think I actually would've use Oreos for this bad boy next time. I may think about finely crushing the cookies and mixing them into the buttercream for the middle layer instead of just placing it on top of the frosting in the middle layer.

I can say one thing healthy about this cake...I used dark chocolate which is has good nice antioxidants in it...as does the coffee in the recipe too. Also, this is one of the FEW Barefoot Contessa recipes that doesn't use butter for the cake and I used my Omerga-3 blend oil. Am I far reaching on this one since the bad outweighs the good? Yeah, I think so too.

My cookie crushing, cake decorating helpers.